They were cruising into the second round of the 2010 Big East Championships. And then Providence chipped away little by little, almost pulling a miracle comeback to stun the Pirates.
It all left Seton Hall leaving Madison Square Garden clinging to a common theme of March college basketball – survive and advance.
The Hall dwindled its 20-plus lead in the second half but hung on to defeat Providence, 109-106, in its opening round game of the Big East Tournament on Tuesday night in New York.
“You know, it was kind of like two different games,” head coach Bobby Gonzalez said during the postgame press conference. “We were up 29 or 30 or whatever it was. Believe it or not, and I know this is kind of a funny statement, you would rather be up 29 than down 29…it’s not easy to stay ahead in a game that long.”
The win pushes the Pirates into a 7 p.m. tilt with the No. 7 seeded Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Wednesday, a game that may be enough to push Seton Hall into an at-large NCAA Tournament bid if won; fellow bubble team Connecticut was blown out by St. John’s, 73-51, on Tuesday afternoon, hurting its chances of making the tourney.
Sophomore forward Herb Pope scored 27 points and grabbed 11 rebounds before fouling out. Four other Pirates posted double figures in points, including sophomore guard Jordan Theodore’s 21 points on 4-4 three-point shooting.
Forward Jamine Peterson paced the comeback bid in the second half for the Friars, scoring 38 points and collecting 16 rebounds.
“That’s a tremendous game,” junior guard Jeremy Hazell said during the postgame press conference. “We didn’t think he was going to do that… he came out and had a breakout game.”
About midway through the second half, the Pirates appeared to be in cruise control. The Hall had no problem with scoring in the paint (52 points overall on the night) and stopping Providence from scoring consistently.
But the contest took a slow and lethargic turn, as fouls piled up for both teams. By hitting 70 percent from the free-throw line – 20 of 26 in the second half – the Friars cut down the deficit entering the final minutes.
A 100-83 lead with 4:07 remaining became a 10 point game for the Friars after a Peterson basket and free throws from forward Bilal Dixon. Dixon continued to score inside and, with Seton Hall missing free throws, Providence kept its season alive.
With 15 seconds left and a 109-104 game, Friars guard Vincent Council hit a jumper to keep it a one-possession game. Junior forward Jeff Robinson missed two free-throws with seven seconds left that could have iced the game – giving Providence one final shot.
But the magic ran out, as Friars guard Duke Mondy failed to convert a desperation three-pointer as time expired.
“Right now, we’re playing our best basketball,” Gonzalez said. “And again we’re just happy to survive and advance and we’re playing on Wednesday night.”
Brian Wisowaty can be reached at email@example.com.